Part 2 (Sunday evening)
Then just when you might be wondering whether Sunday church, or indeed church as institution has any future at all, you get a day like today which was everything I love...
It began with the unlikely pleasure of an 8.30 BCP Eucharist at church on the hill. I'm not a morning person, and though I love C17 literature, the Book of Common Prayer is rarely my preferred vehicle for worship - but today it was just right. Since my predecessor departed (well over 2 years ago) church on the hill has gone without a morning service on the 1st Sunday of the month to enable us to time the All Age Communion in the valley at a happier hour for families who would really rather spend their Sunday morning in pyjamas. The theory was that congregation from the hill would come down to join those in the valley, but they are a group that likes their worship calm and ordered for the most part - and while All Age Communion is many things, most of them positive, calm and ordered are nowhere on the scene. So, from today the hill folk have a Sunday morning service every week..and I have to say that a said BCP service works a treat there. We gathered in the choir, and just worshipped without fuss or anxiety...and it was lovely. One of the happiest experiences I've had in that church since my arrival. Now to work out what it was that enabled genuine community there this morning, and how to transfer it to the Parish Communion, where God squeezes in as best God can.
Down in the valley, we had the baptism of three children from a rather lovely family who have become regulars over the past few months. E attends Valley Church School, and her little sister is at the playgroup that meets in our church hall, so I really do know them quite well...which made proceedings stress free and enjoyable for everyone. When I asked if they wanted to be baptised, the answer was a squeal of excitement and a pretty convincing hug...but though their baptism was a joy, it wasn't the absolute high spot of my morning. That came courtesy of H, for whom I conducted a naming ceremony in accordance with his father's African traditions, when he was just a week old. That was almost 6 months ago now, and today when his parents brought him up the altar rail for a blessing, his response to my post-scripted reminder
"Jesus loves you very much, you know" was a smile of such piercing beauty that I basked in its blessing for the rest of the morning.
Good conversations over coffee (it's so lovely not to have to charge out the door for the 11.00 on the hill once a month at least) and I even had time to go for a walk in the church-yard, where I had a long and God filled conversation with someone tending a grave. Suspect that loitering in the churchyard ought to be a non negotiable part of my timetable - though it's hard to decide what else I don't do, in order to fit it in.
This afternoon was very church-filled too,as a new colleague was licensed to a well-to-do neighbouring parish, which prides itself on well conducted catholic worship very much in the mould of St M's, Ch K (one influential priest served both congregations in turn, so it's not altogether surprising). FabBishop was joined by +Mary, from our new link diocese of El Camino Real in California, and great was the joyful ceremonial. It was good to revisit a licensing service one year on from my own and to remember again the truth in the Bishop's words, spoken after he has invited the new priest to "receive the cure of souls that is both yours and mine".
"Receive it confidently
Serve Christ joyfully.
Put your trust in God.
He is faithful."
So much evidence of that today - I wouldn't have missed it for anything. In no hurry to abandon Sunday church after all...though still considering how to foster genuine community.